For years now, my dear friend Amanda has spoken to me about her many trips – some solo for research, some with Davidson students – to Russia. The challenges and joys of traveling to a place she knows well, loves and with which she is intellectually engaged make for wonderful stories.
Traveling with this group of colleagues for two weeks allowed me the opportunity to take a step inside my dear friend’s world. To see a place that has been an integral part of her life, that has shaped her career, her family, her thinking and much more, feels a bit like picking up a book of poetry by a dear friend and reading lines that reflect deep, personal and intimate thoughts.
The opportunity to travel to Russia with Amanda is a bit of a dream come true. For all the intellectual enrichment it offered, it was the eye-view into my friend’s world – the subjects of her passions and curiosities, the streets on which she lived, libraries where she did research, cities that have become second homes to her – that was most meaningful. The kindness and grace with which she translated for us in fury (at restaurants, metro stations, shops) gave me a sense of the calm with which she needs to approach student group trips to Russia (those trips have not always required students to have Russian language skills). The passion and love of the many sights we visited, along with the detailed knowledge she has of the history and cultural conventions made it possible for us to fully immerse ourselves in the subjects about which we were learning, and be fully present at all the amazing sights we were able to see.
Being able to see “Amanda’s Russia” has enriched my intellectual life and this trip allowed for conversations with colleagues that will continue for some time to come. But personally, the most meaningful part of this experience for me is the opportunity to travel with Amanda, walk down the streets of St. Petersburg and Moscow next to her and listen to her point out personal landmarks. I know that I saw things I never would have noticed, and understood the details of what I looked at in ways I never would have had I traveled alone. It was a bit like getting to open up one of those Faberge eggs, filled with intricate, detailed beauty.